Ci Ji Lim joins biochemistry faculty

Ci Ji Lim
Assistant Professor Ci Ji Lim.

Ci Ji Lim’s first impression of UW-Madison’s campus: “amazing!” He was struck not only by the surrounding lakes – in stark contrast to the mountains in Colorado he was used to – but even moreso by the deeply meaningful interactions he had with UW-Madison’s people, its faculty, staff, and students.

Now he’ll be among them as the Department of Biochemistry’s newest faculty member.

Lim, who goes by CJ, will use Cryo-EM technology to study how mammalian telomeres are regulated and how they achieve homeostasis. Telomeres act as protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, holding genetic information in place. Without telomeres, some of that information is lost every time a cell undergoes division. This loss of genetic information at the cellular level can lead to cancer and age-related diseases.

Lim developed an interest in telomere biology during his undergraduate research work in Singapore, where he grew up. This work led him to a Ph.D. in single-molecule biophysics at the National University of Singapore, and from there to Colorado, where he pursued postdoctoral training in biochemistry and Cryo-EM in the Cech lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The thriving structural biology research community and state-of-the-art new Cryo-EM Research Center within the Department of Biochemistry at UW-Madison were a powerful lure for Lim. The cutting-edge facility was established by the Department and key partners including The Morgridge Institute for Research, with whom Lim will hold affiliate status, and can help researchers make significant new contributions to many areas of structural biology.

Images of cryo-EM model of human CST decamer with telomeric ssDNA, in side and top views.

“Cryo-EM is a microscope technique that allows us to observe and take pictures of our samples frozen in thin ice,” Lim explained. “Cryo-EM requires samples to embed in amorphous ice (also called vitreous ice) for imaging, which unlike crystalline ice (the kind of ice you would find in soft drinks or glaciers), is optically transparent. Amorphous ice is achieved by rapid cooling of water, so one would think this form of ice is rare, but in fact is likely the dominant form of ice in our universe!”

Lim’s research has important implications for biomedical research, such as having the ability to develop specific drugs to target cancer and age-related illnesses.

Lim is eager to contribute to the University’s long-standing tradition of the Wisconsin Idea, training and mentoring the next generation of scientists in his field. “I believe the benefits derived from research and education should not be confined within a laboratory or classroom, and should instead be applicable to a broader practicality,” said Lim. “Studying how human telomeres are regulated will help us understand how related diseases come about, and find specific ways to combat these diseases. This involves training students and postdoctoral fellows through a key phase of their career development – and beyond.”

The draw of the department’s long-standing reputation in basic research excellence and commitment to establishing a leading Cryo-EM research facility excite Lim, who arrived in Madison in early August. When he finds the time, he also enjoys hiking, soccer and fishing.